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Are the 1999 Mets the Real Deal?

Following is a detailed look at the Mets' off season moves, taken from official New York Mets news releases found at or the AP.

10/26/98 -- Mike Piazza re-signs with Mets
10/27/98 -- Luis Lopez re-signs with Mets
10/28/98 -- Al Leiter re-signs with Mets
11/11/98 -- Bobby Bonilla traded to Mets
11/12/98 -- Masato Yoshii re-signs with Mets
11/18/98 -- Dennis Cook re-signs with Mets
11/20/98 -- Oscar Henriquez traded to Mets
12/1/98 -- Armando Benitez and Roger Cedeno traded to Mets
12/2/98 -- Robin Ventura signs with Mets
12/13/98 -- Rickey Henderson signs with Mets


Monday, October 26, 1998

The New York Mets and Mike Piazza today reached agreement on a seven-year contract for $91 million dollars, the most lucrative player-contract in the history of major league baseball.

"Mike's record these last six years speaks for itself," said Mets General Manager Steve Phillips in making the announcement. "He's one of the top offensive forces in the game. I think this signing is proof positive that our ownership, Nelson Doubleday and Fred Wilpon, are deeply committed to continuing the winning tradition we have established these last two years. We were involved in the post-season race right to the final day last year. With Mike as one of our cornerstones, it's our goal to be playing in October in 1999."

"I couldn't be more excited about the way things worked out," said the 30-year-old Piazza, who was acquired by the Mets last May 22nd from the Florida Marlins for outfielder Preston Wilson and minor league lefthanded pitchers Ed Yarnall and Geoff Goetz. "The way I look at it, I have unfinished business to attend to with the Mets. We had a great run and just missed getting into the playoffs. I hope to accomplish that next year.

"I have done a lot of good things in my career," added Mike, who hit .329 last year with 38 doubles, 32 home runs and 111 RBI. "I have been to the post-season and won an MVP award in the All-Star Game. What's missing though is a World Series ring. That's what will be driving me beginning this spring."

Piazza's contract calls for a $7.5 million dollar signing bonus, which will be paid in two installments. Also the contract has a limited trade provision.

Piazza is one of 15 players in major league history who has batted better than .300 and hit 30 or more home runs in four consecutive years. In addition, Mike has ranked in the top 10 in MVP voting in his five previous seasons.

"I grew to really love New York last year," added Mike. "It's a great city with so much to do. Also we have an outstanding locker room. The guys are great. That's another reason why I wanted to come back."

Bobby Valentine, the Mets manager, was naturally thrilled at Piazza's return.

"It's a great feeling for the entire organization knowing that Mike will be with us well into the new millenium," Valentine said. "He is so successful because he wants to win so badly. Mike is one of the most intense players that I have ever been around in the dugout. He gives 110 percent every second he is on he field."

Piazza, who was the Dodgers 61st selection in the 62nd round of the June, 1988, has a .333 lifetime major league average in 3,118 games. He has 148 doubles, one triple, 200 home runs and 644 RBI. With the Mets in 109 games in 1998, Mike hit .348 with 33 doubles, 23 home runs and 76 RBI.

Last year Mike finished fourth in the National League in hitting and 10th with a .571 slugging percentage.

Also in 1998, Mike accomplished the following:

  • Had his fifth season with 30 or more home runs and his fourth season with 100 or more RBI… In addition, it was his fourth consecutive year with 30 or more home runs and his third straight year with 100 or more RBI.
  • Was selected to his sixth straight All-Star Game, July 7th at Colorado...Was the National League' starting catcher and went 1-3.
  • Led the majors with four grand slams…His fourth slam and first as a Met came against Arizona's Andy Benes in he second inning of the August 22nd game at Shea…Has nine grand slams for his career.
  • Tied his career high with his 14th and 15th lifetime, four-hit games May 27th at Florida and September 14th in Houston.
  • Had a 12-game hitting streak from July 17th to July 31st (18-47, .383).
  • Hit two home runs on July 18th vs. the Phillies, his third, two home run game of the season and the 20th multiple-home run game of his career.
  • Was the NL Player of the Week on two occasions with the Dodgers (April 6th April 12th and April 20th to April 26th).
  • Had 46, multi-hit games (38 with the Mets) and 25, multi-RBI games (19 with the Mets).
  • Hit safely in 85 of his 109 games with the Mets.
  • Cracked the longest home run in Astrodome history, an estimated 480-foot, two-run blast off Jose Lima in the first inning of the September 14th game.
  • Collected his 200th career home run on September 16th at Houston…The home run, a three-run shot with two outs in the ninth inning against Billy Wagner, gave the Mets a 3-2 lead in a game they would win, 4-3, in 11 innings.


    Tuesday, October 27, 1998

    Luis Lopez, who started games at five positions last year for the New York Mets, today signed a two-year contract with the National League team for $1,350,000.00. Lopez, 28, was one of eight Mets who were eligible for salary arbitration. Luis will be paid $575,000.00 in 1999 and $775,000 in the year 2000.

    "Luis is one of the most versatile players in the League," said General Manager Steve Phillips. "The way Bobby Valentine uses his roster he is an extremely valuable commodity. He helps us in so many ways."

    In 1998, Lopez hit .252 and established career-highs in at-bats (266), runs (37), hits (67), doubles (13), triples (2), RBI (22) and walks (20). For New York, Luis made 27 starts at second base, 15 at shortstop, three at third base, five in leftfield and one in rightfield. His appearances in the outfield were his first as a major leaguer.

    The other Mets eligible for arbitration are: pitcher Turk Wendell, Jason Isringhausen and Hideo Nomo; catcher Todd Pratt; outfielder Butch Huskey and infielders Rey Ordonez and Edgardo Alfonzo.


    Wednesday, October 28, 1998

    Lefthander Al Leiter, who enjoyed his most productive major league season with the New York Mets in 1998, today signed a four-year, $32 million dollar contract with the National League team.

    "Al developed into the leader of our pitching staff last year," said Mets General Manager Steve Phillips in making the announcement. "It gives me a great feeling to know that he will be the anchor of our rotation for at least the next four years.

    "This has been an historic week for the entire Mets organization," Phillips added. "We were able to secure the services of Mike (Piazza) and Al on long term deals. But we aren't going to stop now. We know we still have some work to do to be playing next October and that's our objective."

    Al, who turned 33-years-old on October 23rd, was acquired by the Mets last February 6th along with Ralph Milliard from the Florida Marlins in exchange for lefthanded pitcher Jesus Sanchez, righthanded pitcher A. J. Burnett and outfielder Robert Stratton (who was later traded back to the Mets).

    "This is like a dream come true for me," said Leiter, who reached career bests last year with his 17 victories (17-6 record) and a 2.47 ERA. "I was a Mets' fan growing up as a kid and now I have a chance to finish my career at Shea Stadium.

    "I had a great experience here last summer," Al went on. "I love the City and I love the direction in which the team is going. Steve has told both Mike and I that signing us is just the beginning."

    Mets manager Bobby Valentine is away on a scouting trip to Korea and Japan. Reached by phone today in Seoul, he was naturally thrilled about Al's return.

    "Quality pitchers are a hot commodity and quality lefthanded pitchers are even a hotter commodity," said Valentine. "In addition to his abilities on the field, Al is such a fine representative of the team. He a deep interest in the community and realizes that a player's responsibilities don't end when the game is over."

    Al and his brother Mark, a pitcher with the Philadelphia Phillies, have formed Leiter's Landing a charitable foundation which services many worthwhile causes in the Metropolitan area. Just recently Al donated close to $100,000.00 to build a Senior League Baseball Field in Berkeley Township, NJ, the town in which he was raised.

    "I plan to do many more things in the community these next four years and beyond," said Al. "One of the great things about having a foundation is that you aren't bounded by one particular charity. Mark and I can help whoever we want."

    Leiter, 6-3 and 220 pounds, tied for third in the National League in ERA. He was also third in the League with a .739 winning percentage, second in batting average against (.216) and seventh in strikeouts (174).

    Al's 17 victories were the most by a Mets pitcher sine Frank Viola won 20 in 1990. Also, he worked at least six innings in 26 of his 28 starts. Leiter was 14-3 with three, no-decisions in his last 20 games.

    In addition, Al worked 25.1 consecutive scoreless innings from April 14th to May 4th, the longest streak of his career. Leiter also became the first Mets pitcher to throw two shutouts in a season since Dwight Gooden in 1993 when he blanked he Expos, 2-0, at Montreal on June 16th.

    At the end of June, Al was 10-4 and appeared a certainty to be named to the All-Star team. However, in a start against the Yankees on June 26th at Shea, he partially tore the patella tendon of his left knee while covering first base on a ball hit by Derek Jeter. Leiter was placed on the Disabled List on June 27th, but was able to return to action until July 18th.

    "Some people thought Al might be out for the year," said Valentine. "But Al wouldn't have it. He almost willed himself back to health. That's the kind of determination and dedication Al Leiter has."

    Next week Leiter, shortstop Rey Ordonez, and Mets third base coach Cookie Rojas will leave with a major league All Star team on an eight-game tour of Japan.


    Thursday, November 11, 1998

    The New York Mets today obtained switch-hitting Bobby Bonilla, along with cash considerations from the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for righthanded pitcher Mel Rojas.

    "Bobby lends another big bat to our line-up to supplement John (Olerud) and Mike (Piazza)," said Mets interim General Manager Frank Cashen. "Last year was a tough year for Bobby with all of the injuries, but we are confident that he is healthy and will help our team."

    Bonilla, a five-time All Star, started last season with the Florida Marlins on the Disabled List, recovering from off-season surgeries on his left wrist and left Achilles' tendon. In addition, during the season Bobby was on the Disabled List from June 18th-July 2nd with an intestinal infection after having a non-cancerous growth removed near his colon and July 15th-August 4th with left wrist tendinitis.

    Bobby, 35, was with the Marlins until May 12th when he was part of the seven-player trade that sent catcher Charles Johnson, outfielders Jim Eisenreich and Gary Sheffield and minor league pitcher Manuel Barrios to the Los Angeles Dodgers for catcher Mike Piazza and infielder Todd Zeile.

    "Bobby's presence in the line-up gives Mike (Piazza) excellent protection," added Mets manager Bobby Valentine.

    "I'm thrilled to be back in New York and to be back home," said Bonilla. "I was fortunate enough to win a World Series with the Marlins, but my ultimate goal has always been to bring a World Championship back to the Mets."

    Bonilla signed with the Mets as a free agent on December 2, 1991 and was with New York until July 31, 1995 when he was traded to the Baltimore Orioles. During that period with New York, he batted .278 (462-1660) with 93 doubles, eight triples, 91 home runs, 277 RBI in 455 games.

    Bobby is a career .285 (1893-6681) hitter with 383 doubles, 58 triples, 273 home runs, 1,106 RBI in 1,846 games.

    Mel Rojas was 5-2 with a 6.05 ERA and two saves in 50 games for New York this season. In 58.0 innings, he permitted 68 hits, 39 runs, 39 earned, 30 walks and 41 strikeouts.


    Thursday, November 12, 1998

    The New York Mets today signed 33-year-old Masato Yoshii to a two-year contract with an option for a third year. The righthander will earn $2,000,000 in 1999 and $3,000,000 in 2000.

    In 29 games, all starts, with the Mets last season, Yoshii posted a 6-8 record with a 3.93 ERA. He worked 171.2 innings, allowing 166 hits, 79 runs, earned, with 53 walks and 117 strikeouts.

    "Masato deserves a lot of credit," said manager Bobby Valentine. "He easily could have stayed in Japan last season and made more money, but he was determined to prove himself in the United States. He did just that and more."

    Yoshii originally signed with the Mets as a free agent on January 13th, after a 13-year career in the Japanese Professional League. In Japan, he posted a career mark of 73-51 with a 3.43 ERA and 61 saves in 310 games.

    "I really enjoyed myself with the Mets last year," said Yoshii through an interpreter in Japan. "Bobby Valentine understands me and the type of pitcher I am. I think I proved I can pitch in the major leagues last season, and it is my goal this year to improve and help the Mets get to the playoffs."

    The Osaka-native did not allow a run over his first 14.0 major league innings. For the season, he posted a 5-4 record at Shea Stadium with a 3.27 ERA in 15 home starts.

    "We have established a great relationship with the Mets," said Yoshii's agent, Don Numuro. "I enjoy dealing with the Mets, but more importantly, Hideo (Nomo) and Masato are very comfortable with Bobby Valentine and the entire organization."


    Tuesday, December 1, 1998

    The New York Mets today acquired 26-year-old righthanded relief pitcher Armando Benitez and 24-year-old outfielder Roger Cedeno in a three-way trade with the Baltimore Orioles and the Los Angeles Dodgers. In the transaction, the Mets sent catcher Todd Hundley and minor league pitcher Arnold Gooch to the Dodgers for catcher Charles Johnson and Cedeno. New York then traded Johnson to the Orioles for Benitez.

    "We feel this is a trade that strengthens us in two areas," said Mets General Manager Steve Phillips in making the announcement. "Armando Benitez is a hard thrower who will add a new look to our bullpen. He will be an excellent set up man for John Franco and will be able to close on days when John can not.

    "Roger Cedeno is one of the up-and-coming outfielders in the National League and we have excellent reports on him. He came up to the majors when he was 20-years-old," Phillips added. "Our people feel he is about to come into his prime."

    Phillips also had this to say about Hundley, a two-time National League All-Star, who set the Major League record with 41 home runs in 1996. "Todd has handled this whole situation with class and dignity," said Steve. "He has given his all to this organization for a long time. I just want to say thank you and wish him best of luck with the Los Angeles Dodgers."

    Benitez, a 6-4, 225 pound righthander, turned 26, last November 3rd. Last year for Baltimore, he was 6-5 with 3.82 ERA, 22 saves in 71 games, which matched his career high. In 68.3 innings he allowed 28 hits, 29 runs, 29 earned runs, 39 walks and 37 strikeouts.

    Benitez, who resides in San Pedro de Macoris, DR, had 22 saves in 26 opportunities, an .846 save percentage, 10th in the American League. In 1998, opponents only hit .199 against him (48-241), the fifth best mark in the league.

    In 1997, Armando was 4-5 with a 2.45 ERA with nine saves in 71 games. He had 106 strikeouts in 73.1 innings. Over the last two seasons, Benitez has converted 31 of 36 save opportunities. In his major league career, he has struck out 283 batters and allowed 149 hits in 213.2 innings.

    Cedeno, a 6-1, 205 pound switch hitter, turned 24 last August 16th. For the Dodgers last year he hit .242 in 105 games, with 11 doubles, one triple, two homers, 17 RBI and eight stolen bases. The Valencia, Venezuela native made 49 starts for Los Angeles last year, 25 in center, 20 in left and four in right. In his four year major league career with the Dodgers he has complied a .252 average in 311 games with seven home runs, 55 RBI and 23 stolen bases.

    Cedeno, missed the Dodgers first 20 games in 1998 while on the 15-day disabled list with a right hamstring strain.

    Hundley, 29, spent the first half of the 1998 season on the Disabled List recuperating from elbow surgery (September 27, 1997). In 53 games with the Mets, he hit .161 (20-124) with eight runs scored, four doubles, three home runs, 12 RBI and one stolen base. In 829 career games over his nine-year career (all with New York), Hundley hit .240 (612-2549) with 340 runs scored, 118 doubles, seven triples, 124 home runs, 397 RBI and 11 stolen bases.

    Gooch, 22, spent the 1998 season at Binghamton (AA) of the Eastern League. He started 27 games with an 11-14 record and a 3.90 ERA. Gooch pitched 163.2 innings, allowing 164 hits, 92 runs, 71 earned with 116 strikeouts and 60 walks this season at Binghamton.

    Johnson, 27, played in 133 overall games with the Dodgers and Marlins last season, batting .218 with 18 doubles, 19 home runs, 58 RBI and 44 runs scored.


    Wednesday, December 2, 1998

    Robin Ventura, who captured his fifth Rawlings Gold Glove at third base for the Chicago White Sox last season, today signed a four-year, 32 million dollar contract with the New York Mets.

    "Robin Ventura is a quality person and a quality player," said General Manager Steve Phillips in making the announcement. "With his bat and the addition of Bobby Bonilla, we feel we have significantly fortified the middle of our batting order."

    The Mets also have fortified their infield defense, too. Next to Ventura at third base will be two-time Gold Glove shortstop Rey Ordonez. Edgardo Alfonzo, primarily the team's third baseman since 1994, will be moved to second base, while John Olerud remains at first.

    "We have spoken to Edgardo about the move and he is most comfortable with it," said Phillips. "The only thing he asked us was that we would let him know as early as we could so he could prepare himself for the season. I realize there are other teams out there who have pretty good defensive infields, too, but I really don't think there is one out there better than ours"

    Ventura, a 31-year old lefthanded batter, just completed his 10th season with the White Sox, the longest-tenured member of the club. In 1998, for Chicago, he established a career-high by appearing in 161 games and hit .263 with 31 doubles, four triples, 21 home runs and 91 RBI. It was the fifth time in his career he hit 20 or more home runs and the sixth time he drove in 90 or more runs.

    "I'm thrilled about coming to the Mets," said Robin, from his home in Santa Maria, CA. "I'm excited about the direction the team is going. I had talks with Mike Piazza and Al Leiter and they had nothing but great things to say about playing in New York. It's going to be sad for me to leave Chicago, but I can't wait to be a part of the Mets organization."

    In 1998, Ventura committed 15 errors in 447 chances for a .966 fielding percentage. The 447 chances were first among American League third basemen. Only Brooks Robinson (16) and Buddy Bell (six) have won more gold gloves among AL third basemen.

    Chicago's first round pick (10th overall selection) in the June 1988 Free Agent Draft, Ventura has compiled a .274 career batting average in, 1,254 games. He has 219 doubles, 12 triples, 171 home runs and 741 RBI. Robin was selected to the 1992 American League All-Star Game in San Diego and was 2-2 with a run scored and a double.

    Ventura's 1997 season was curtailed to 54 games because of severely dislocated and broken right ankle. He suffered the compound fracture and dislocation sliding into home plate in the fourth inning of the March 21st game against the Red Sox at Sarasota.

    Ventura ended his three-year collegiate career at Oklahoma State University by batting .391 with 26 home runs and 96 RBI during his junior season. As a sophomore at OSU he came to national prominence when he hit in 58 consecutive games. He was named the College Player of the Decade by Baseball America and was the third baseman on Baseball America's All-Time College All-Star team.


    Sunday, December 13, 1998

    Associated Press

    NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The New York Mets needed a leadoff man, especially after stealing the fewest bases in the majors last season. They found him in Rickey Henderson, who has stolen more bases than anyone in baseball history.

    The Mets, in pursuit of Henderson for almost a month, caught up with the free-agent outfielder on Sunday.

    Henderson, who turns 40 on Christmas Day, agreed to a one-year contract plus an option year. His base salary for 1999 will be $1.8 million, with a $500,000 buyout. If he gets 500 plate appearances next season, his 2000 contract is guaranteed for $2 million.

    He can also reach $500,000 in incentives each year.

    "Arguably, Rickey Henderson is the best leadoff hitter in the history of the game," Mets general manager Steve Phillips said at the winter meetings.

    Henderson will play left field, where New York tried several players last season. The Mets wound up using Tony Phillips, who signed with Oakland on Friday.

    "The Mets have put together a team that can win the division. I want to be a part of it," said Henderson, who has won World Series with Oakland and Toronto.

    "I'd say the Mets have the best team in New York now," Henderson said on a conference call from Oakland. "The Yankees have been on top for a while, now it's the Mets' turn to take over."

    Henderson also wanted to sign with a team with a good lineup in hopes of reaching his final career goals -- setting baseball's career record for runs and walks.

    He ranks sixth on the runs list with 2,014, with Ty Cobb leading at 2,245. The record is within reach -- trailing by 232 -- though Henderson would probably have to play beyond this contract to get it.

    Henderson is much closer to the walks record with a total of 1,890, third behind Ted Williams and leader Babe Ruth (2,056). With his tight crouch and good eye and knowledge of the strike zone, Henderson probably will need just two healthy seasons to add that record to his steals mark.

    "Sure, I'm known for my basestealing," Henderson said. "But the ultimate is scoring runs. That's one record I really want to get."

    Despite batting a career-low .236 last season for Oakland, he led the AL with 118 walks and topped the majors with 66 stolen bases, pushing his record career total to 1,297. He became the first player to lead his league in both walks and steals, and the oldest player to lead in either category.

    Henderson scored 101 runs, had a .376 on-base percentage, hit 14 home runs and drove in 57 runs for the Athletics in his fourth stint with the team. He also has played for the New York Yankees (1985-89), Toronto, San Diego and Anaheim.

    Mets leadoff hitters batted .237 with a .321 on-base percentage and 15 steals last season. As a team, New York stole 62 bases and was caught 46 times. Henderson was caught 13 times.

    The Mets have been one of the majors' busiest teams in the offseason, re-signing Mike Piazza, Al Leiter and Dennis Cook, and signing Robin Ventura. They have also made two big trades, getting Bobby Bonilla and Armando Benitez and dealing away Todd Hundley and Mel Rojas.

    Seattle also had been interested in Henderson, but did not figure to match what the Mets offered.

    "Seattle called late last night, but we didn't solicit an offer from them," agent Jeff Borris said.

    Henderson's only previous time in the National League was with the Padres in 1996 and most of 1997.

    Henderson will wear his favorite number -- 24 -- with the Mets. Willie Mays wore it with the Mets in 1972-73, and it has not been worn by anyone on the team since, except for a few days by infielder Kelvin Torve in the early 1990s.

    "That was an oversight," Phillips said of Torve's wearing No. 24.

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